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Hurricane Hatched a Local TV Leader

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Richard Boehne, Scripps president and CEO, says the transformation of Brian Lawlor from promising young broadcasting executive to full-fledged local TV leader occurred when WPTV West Palm Beach was besieged by Hurricane Frances seven years ago this month. Part of the station’s roof was ripped off, and electrical fires blazed in the building. But Lawlor’s steady hand—keeping the WPTV troops focused and the station on the air, while addressing the needs of the community— showed Boehne that the GM was destined for a larger role in the Scripps group.

“For Brian, it was a real taste of how important a station can be to the community,” says Boehne. “It was a point of incredible need for people, and it ignited him. It opened Brian’s eyes as to what a great place a TV station could be, beyond the sales and business side.”

Lawlor, the son (and grandson) of New York City police officers, had actually been on Boehne’s radar screen ever since he took part in a Scripps leadership program Boehne ran in the mid-‘90s. “I thought, this is going to be a very talented manager,” recalls Boehne. “I should keep an eye on him.”

Lawlor took over the 10-station group at the beginning of 2009, after a year-long stint as sales vice president for the stations, and quickly established himself as a well-respected corporate officer at the 133-year-old journalism giant. Boehne says Lawlor pushed hard for comprehensive training for newsroom staff, giving everyone the skills required to produce timely and impactful content. It wasn’t a cheap request, and it hit the group at an inopportune time—to say the least—for all local television outfits. But Boehne signed off on it, and he says the retraining has been key to the ratings momentum of the Scripps stations, including WEWS Cleveland and WXYZ Detroit, in recent years.

“He was right,” says Boehne, “and it paid off.”

Boehne adds that such big-picture thinking has become a cornerstone of his station group chief’s management style. “Brian is patient, and he’s not afraid to do multi-year planning,” says Boehne. “That’s in terribly short supply in our business.”